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Oklahoma's Board of Equalization Certifies Budget As It Faces Mounting Legal Battle

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OKLAHOMA CITY -

The state's recently approved $6.8 billion budget for fiscal year 2018 is facing multiple legal challenges, another lawsuit was filed Wednesday, but that didn't keep the State Board of Equalization from certifying the spending plan. The new fiscal year begins on Saturday.

Gov. Mary Fallin already signed the budget into law, but certification by the Board of Equalization is also required. Generally, approval by the board (comprised of six statewide elected officials -- the governor, lieutenant-governor, attorney general, treasurer, superintendent of instruction, and state auditor -- plus the secretary of agriculture) is a given.

This year, however, things were a bit different.

At the board's last meeting, in February, members certified the amount of revenue lawmakers had to fashion a budget, $6.030 billion, almost $900 million short of what was budgeted for FY 2017.

The legislature covered the shortfall through a combination of agency cuts and measures to bring in new revenue, such as a $1.50/pack cigarette fee, and a 1.25% sales tax on automobiles. Both of those measures are being challenged in the state Supreme Court, and gubernatorial candidate Gary Richardson announced Wednesday he had filed a lawsuit asking the courts to invalidate two other revenue measures, as well.

State Auditor Gary Jones, also a candidate for governor, says he definitely is troubled by several of the bills lawmakers passed at the end of the session in an attempt to generate new revenue, but he says the Equalization Board's job is to certify revenue estimates, not judge whether portions of the budget are unlawful.

"According to a Supreme Court ruling," Jones said Wednesday, "we have to assume that [the measures are lawful], and make a determination as to whether or not that's the amount of money available, that the legislature appropriated.'

There was no discussion on the item Wednesday, and Jones along with three other members of the board voted to certify the budget.

State Treasurer Ken Miller was not one of them. Miller released a statement explaining that he had labored over the decision, but believes members of the Board of Equalization do have "the authority to exercise judgment and vote their conscience." Miller voted no.

One member of the board, Gov. Mary Fallin, was not present.

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